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Town of Hunter Tidbits: The enchanting tales of Burgess “Bird” Howard

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Howard’s store.
January 10, 2018 11:48 am Updated: January 10, 2018 12:04 pm

The following article is a continuation of the delightful stories from Burgess (Bird) Howard. How interesting to read the thoughts and words of a local resident so many years ago.

But first, let me share some information about the Howard’s taken from a few different sources:

Leah Wiltse said in her book, “Pioneer Days in the Catskills,” that Burgess Howard’s father, Ezra, lost his house to a fire in 1903. The house was located at 6014 Main St. — the location today of Drew’s Country Store. Ezra, and later Burgess, took advantage of the Sawmill Creek, located a short distance behind their house, to operate a mill previously built and operated by Stimp Haines.

Their sawmill and wood-turning shop was used to make souvenirs for their store, Howard’s Souvenirs of The Catskills. Next door to the souvenir store, they operated Howard’s Café, both located just west of their home.

As Leah stated, “It took ingenuity and tedious labor to harness the force of water to create power for running early mills,” which should warrant its own article in the future.

Burgess’s story continues:

He explains in a publication, “Tannersville,” 60 Years Ago, “My first job (approximately 1890) was working on the Onteora road when I was in my 10th year. The town levied a poll tax of one dollar or a day’s work, on the road.

“My father (Ezra Howard) gave me a hoe 2 feet taller than I, and sent me to work out his road tax. After walking a mile, I met the superintendent of the Onteora road, Cyrus Showers who paid his tax by being the boss. He was 6 feet tall, which made me feel mighty small.

“Anyway, after the laughter of the others subsided, he let me hoe the loose stones back in the ditch. The taxpayers revolted at such extravagance — throwing the stone back that had just been plowed out of the ditches. I forgot my lunch and Cyrus divided his dinner with me and six o’clock, we quit. I waded home through the mud in my bare feet in a May snow squall. It’s a far cry from those days and now, with its high-salaried superintendents of highways, state, county and town; the cost and operation of the ponderous machinery for road maintenance and snow removal.

“To my mind, the whole setup parallels luxurious Rome before its downfall and France, which failed to do any sober thinking crowded the highways and were slaughtered by the oncoming artillery on their super highways. Luxury saps the virility of the human race and nations so afflicted gradually sink into oblivion.

“The Tannersville-Haines Falls region, on the summit of the eastern Catskills, is surrounded by a broken chain of mountains that the state took over without even consulting the inhabitants of this territory. Before the state absorbed these ranges, lumbermen and farmers cleared the woods of much of its large trees, with the sun shining on the good earth, stimulated the latent seed and lo and behold the luxuriant growth of the many things essential to the wild denizens of the woods, and thereafter game was abundant until the state took over and to cut a tiny sapling on state land is a crime for sooth. And now, a giraffe would starve trying to reach the leaves of these cathedrals of the sky.

“Under surveillance of the Conservation Commission, it is now a graveyard of aged trees that refuse to lie down. One can wander through state forest land for days and never see, hear or find tracks of any creatures of the woods — not even the friendly chirp of a bird to break the depressing silence.

“The few remaining bears and deer get their substance mainly on the abandoned farms at the base of these ranges. Matthew Flanagan (Burgess Howard’s grandfather) was only one of many fearless pioneers who settled here and raised large families of stalwart citizens.”

Hope you enjoyed this story. Burgess Howard will continue with his final words in next week’s article. Please contact townofhunterhistorian@yahoo.com or 518-589-4130 with any comments. Have a really good day.